Next Semester

You know my philosophy about blogging… blog only when you want to blog. If you put pressure on yourself, it becomes a chore. And why would I make myself do a chore? More than that, it would be like a chore I created just to make my life harder. Like: every day, make sure you windex the windows to your apartment. (FYI: I have never windexed the windows to my apartment since moving in two and a half years ago.) (That’s what rain is for.) (And curtains.)

However, now that it’s been over a month since I’ve blogged, I wonder what’s going on?

We did have two weeks off, so it’s not like I could blog about school stuff when we didn’t even have school…

True. But that’s me rationalizing. Or how about…

I don’t have time because I’m just so busy…

I think. But this year I’m no busier than previous years. In fact, I might be less busy with school stuff. (However, I should say that I’m making good on my school year motto this year: “I’m doing me.“)

Actually, I think that is the problem. I wonder if I’ve gone stale, like that moldy bread in the back of my fridge? I only think it’s moldy, actually. I keep on putting things in front of it, because I’m scared to take it out, but I don’t want to look at it. It’s like smelling milk that might have gone bad. I don’t do it. I just throw it out, because the mere thought of smelling rancid milk makes me want to puke. Where was I going… oh yes, feeling stale. I’ve grown accustomed to having my SmartBoards that I slaved over years ago, and my worksheets and packets that I created ages ago. I’m tweaking. I’m not inventing. Or really even reinventing. I don’t have much to post because I haven’t been doing a lot of creation. And that’s always when I feel excited about posting. Invigorated about what I’m doing. 

Now that I know this, I have an easy fix. Recreate. Invent. Reinvent. I’m also meeting with my department head on Friday to talk about course assignments for next year, and I’m going to ask to teach a course that will be new for me next year.

With all this mind, I’m going to keep a list (that I will update) with possible ideas/goals for next semester, which will be starting in a little over a week.

  • In Algebra II, remember to do group work, and do more “participation quizzes” during that group work.  I did a bunch in the first quarter, and then the groupwork dropped off in the second quarter. Booooo, me! Keep it going, and strong!
  • In Algebra II, remember to utilize the Park School of Baltimore curriculum, especially when working on Quadratics, Transformations, and Exponential Functions. It didn’t quite fit in with our 2nd quarter material, but it will align with our 3rd and 4th quarters.
  • In Algebra II — since we don’t have a midterm for students to see a broad view and get a review of all the 1st and 2nd quarter’s material — have the 3rd and 4th quarter problem sets include “review problems” from topics from the first semester. Or if not, have review problem assignments, in addition to the problem sets.
  • In Algebra II, do a written “final exam study guide” project again, to continue having kids work on their writing skills. Provide feedback, and an opportunity to do revisions, and fix errors. (Video study guides from years ago, paper study guides more recently.)
  • Create this “pencils and eraser” station for kids who forget pencils.
  • In Calculus, continue having kids work in groups on challenging problems every so often.
  • In Calculus, do problem sets in the 3rd and 4th quarters, but make them shorter and give less class time than the 2nd quarter. Continue to make the problem sets have a “group” component and an “individual” component.
  • In Calculus, consider creating a “reading group” where students are asked to read chapters from books, or watch videos that I find online, dealing with calculus (from Charles Seife’s Zero, from David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More, from … well, I have think of the resources!), and we discuss them every other Friday in the 3rd and 4th quarters. I’m not sure how this would work. The point would be to add a more “cultural” component to the class, and a lot of my kids love reading and learning about tangents. But I don’t know how to make it interesting enough that kids will actually do it. (At my school, kids are so busy that they don’t really do things that won’t impact their grades, and I don’t want grades to be a threat to make kids do this… I need to come up with a way that they will do it because it interests them. One thing that’s buzzing around is having kids do the reading, but if they come to class not having done the reading/viewing the video, they don’t get to participate in the discussion/activity, and they have to do something else that’s calculus related and not busywork, but much more boring than whatever we’re doing.)I don’t know. This is tricky for me, because I don’t have a vision for it yet. That has to be clear to me first: the vision, the purpose, and then how to achieve that comes next. I don’t want to do it just because it “seems cool.” I want kids to buy in. Maybe I give them a choice: book/video club, an independent final project, or regular class?
  • I finally got large whiteboards for my students. I’m struggling to use them. So in the 2nd semester: use them. Even if it doesn’t go well, I need to keep using them. I need to have some practice and experience with them, even if to show me what works and what doesn’t work.
  • Now that we’re starting the 2nd semester, have built in time to review the course expectations, and collaboration guidelines for all of my classes.
  • Consider making changes with my Binder Checks in Algebra II? More frequent? Have kids leave their binders in class, and have time set aside for them to organize themselves? This year their binders are not improving much. It may be that I need to baby them. Some things might include: putting “correct the home enjoyment that we went over today” each day on the course conference (the place where I post the nightly work), having binder checks every two weeks instead of every five weeks (or random “homework correction checks” in addition to the five week binder checks), making test corrections a homework assignment (instead of just telling them they need to have it done by the binder check date), and showing kids how to create their own “checklist” to make sure they have everything in the binder done. I am a little surprised that sophomores and juniors are still finding this so challenging.

Some things I need to do regarding this blog:

  • Blog about problem sets in Calculus and Algebra II
  • Blog (briefly) about the change I made to Standards Based Grading in Calculus (scale is now out of 5). And also how this year is going compared to last year (read: better). And what still feels like it’s missing…
  • Blog about talking about Early Action/Decision with my seniors
  • Blog about achieving my goal from last new year’s… to read 52 books. And how I did it (short answer: I don’t know. It feels kind of miraculous.)
  • Make a new Favorite Tweets (even though I haven’t been on twitter lately so it will be short)
  • Update the Virtual Filing Cabinet

That is all.



  1. I, for one, have missed your blogs! Welcome back.

    Perhaps you could blog more about specific maths problems/functions.

    As an aside: I always have problems with inequalities and the absolute value function. Is this common amongst students?

  2. Hi Sam,

    I know you said you want to post about how you do your problem sets (very interested to learn more!) but can you briefly talk about the group vs. individual component? This is a skill I am desperate to build in my calculus class.

  3. As soon as I started reading math education research I never got bored and always had something to think about. Now every time I talk to someone about math it is a giant puzzle trying to figure out what they are thinking.

    If you want to try something new google the next topic you are teaching on googlescholar and see what the research has to say about student thinking in that topic.

    Or read some articles about Calculus by my favorite math educator Pat Thompson.

    All of his articles are on his homepage.

    I’ll leave you with a thought-in the research I’m doing with Calculus students at the university I wanted to figure out why they thought it was hard to think of derivatives as rates of change. It turns out that the way they understand division and rate is entirely different than me. Rates are amounts added without thinking about the multiplicative comparison of two changes.
    Some couldn’t interpret division besides telling me about long division. How would the definition of the derivative make sense at all? Oehrtmann has also written about how kids understand limits. Interesting stuff!

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